The Patriotism of Political Dissent
The first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been a sight to see.
Demonstrations at airports, immigration offices and other venues dotted the landscape of the nation. The Women’s March became a worldwide movement for equal rights. Meanwhile, scientists plan their own march to reemphasize the importance of their field.
In short, a myriad of groups is vocalizing their dissent to the policies already making their way into law less than a month into the new presidency. Whether it’s accessibility to a visible platform or just a larger movement as a whole, protests seem to be more prolific than ever.
And it’s one of the most American things we can do.
It sounds counterintuitive, criticizing and rallying against the leader and figurehead of a nation out of love for said nation. Many individuals will even say that it’s best to respect what the President does without argument. Trust the process to work everything out.
Regardless of stance on Presidential respect, though, there are two major worries that come with waiting things out.
First of all, it assumes all individuals are on or can get to equal playing fields of society, which is inherently untrue. Say what you want about the American Dream, but it seems to be dwindling.
In 2015, Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic wrote an overview of a study where teens felt the American Dream either didn’t exist or existed only with numerous conditions. A study from the Equality of Opportunity Project revealed that the reality of the Dream dwindles with each passing decade.
Alana Semuels reported on that study in a December 2016 piece in The Atlantic. In it, she mentioned the two reasons the EOP cited for this decreasing belief in this staple tenet of traditional American society.
“More benefits are accruing to those at the top,” she said. “Those at the bottom, on the other hand, are not able to achieve as big a share as they once did. Their wages are not growing, so they are stuck at the same level as, or below, their parents.”
But the problem doesn’t start and stop with wealth as a whole. There is more to it, particularly regarding resources, wealth and how the two can shape a society.
“Because they have access to private schools, elite colleges and homes in good neighborhoods, wealthy parents have little incentive to back spending on public education, affordable housing and other services they don’t use,” Semuels said.
“Without support, these services fall by the wayside in poorer neighborhoods. Yet it is those services that often do the most to increase social mobility.”
So the assumptions underlying the American Dream belie the true nature of equality in the nation and, with it, the ability for all people to trust the process. But there is one other problematic aspect to blindly following and waiting.
It runs counter to the tenets of democracy on which our founders built our nation.
In the fledgling years of America, the Founding Fathers publically and demonstratively spoke up against the tyranny of King George III. As we grew into the nation we are now, past generations of vocal dissenters laid the groundwork that would become our current society.
For better or for worse, active protest gets things done – or at least noticed. Regardless of their merit or their intent, these arguments brought attention to the state of the nation and the things that needed fixing. None of that would have happened with passive acceptance.
So to silence someone for their viewpoints not only negates the First Amendment but also puts government in a stagnant feedback loop built on citizen complacency – none of which works to better our country.
After all, isn’t that what we all really want – a better America? Yes, it’s a pretty great place with freedoms that many others want so dearly. It’s why people from all walks of life come here in the first place: not to kill or to die, but to live.
But it can also grow. It can become greater than it is or ever was. The path to that greatness doesn’t happen with application of outdated principles, nor is it a process that happens in a vacuum.
It happens with understanding and a willingness to help others as well as ourselves. It happens with active citizens using our differences to make a diverse mosaic instead of a whitewashed melting pot. It happens with the acceptance of nothing but the best for our country.
It happens with dissent.
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